July 26, 2013

A. Quincy Jones: Modern Architecture's Team Player

Milton S. Tyre House

photo by: Jason Schmidt, Hammer Museum

Milton S. Tyre House. Los Angeles, California, 1951-54.

A. Quincy Jones really liked to collaborate.

That, more than anything, is what I took away from the current exhibit at Los Angeles’ Hammer Museum, A. Quincy Jones: Building for Better Living, part of the current Getty initiative Pacific Standard Time Presents: Modern Architecture in L.A. and the first major retrospective of the often-overlooked architect’s work who contributed so much to late mid-century modern design.

Throughout his four decades practicing architecture in Los Angeles (he practiced in the city from 1938 until his death in 1979), Jones saw each new project as an opportunity for collaboration -- with other architects, with his clients, with designers, engineers, and landscapers.

To him, navigating the city’s bureaucracy wasn’t a hindrance or a burden, but a chance to start conversations with city officials and better understand what he could do to make building projects more efficient and sustainable for all involved.

Talk about a team player.

Site Office, Mutual Housing Association (Crestwood Hills)

photo by: Jason Schmidt, Hammer Museum

Site Office, Mutual Housing Association (Crestwood Hills). Los Angeles, California, 1946-50.

Take, for instance, the Mutual Housing Association of Crestwood Hills. Founded as the Cooperative Housing Group by a small group of musicians in the 1940s who wanted to build houses for themselves on shared land, it quickly ballooned into 500 dues-paying members looking to join the cooperative community.

The group, which became the Mutual Housing Association once a board of directors was formed, bought 800 acres of land in the Santa Monica Mountains. Jones was selected as one of the two architects, and the design team worked with the board and other members of the cooperative to create inexpensive housing plans and shared outdoor spaces and facilities. Though the full vision for the site never came to fruition, more than 160 houses were built; many still stand today, and some have been landmarked by the city.

But in addition to his penchant for collaboration, Jones, as the exhibit’s name suggests, was committed to improving the quality of peoples’ lives through good design.

During the post-war building boom in Southern California, he believed he could create cost-effective houses using innovative, sustainable building methods, all while emphasizing open yet efficient layouts and easy access to gardens and outdoor spaces. Non-grid planning, cul-de-sacs, and shared green spaces were hallmarks of his large housing developments, and his designs for the tract houses used simple structural systems that allowed for greater diversity among the various models, breaking from the static, stucco, box-like homes often created on the cheap.

St. Michael's and All Angels Episcopal Church

photo by: Jason Schmidt, Hammer Museum

St. Michael's and All Angels Episcopal Church, Studio City, California, 1960-62.

But he was more than big ideas. He actually delivered. Jones designed thousands of affordable houses all over Southern California. In fact, the one-time dean of the University of Southern California School of Architecture has more than 5,000 built projects to his name, including single-family dwellings, large custom-designed residences, corporate campuses and workspaces, libraries, churches, and schools.

It turns out I have been admiring A. Quincy Jones structures for years, without knowing much about the architect behind them. But through original drawings, historic and present-day photographs, and models, the Hammer Museum’s exhibit, on view until Sept. 8, changed that.

Other projects on view at the Hammer include Sunnylands, the 25,000-square-foot residence Jones designed for philanthropists Walter and Leonore Annenberg in Rancho Mirage, Calif.; The Herman Miller headquarters in Zeeland, Mich.; and the plans for and model of the never-built Case Study No. 24 house, which he designed with his longtime partner Frederick E. Emmons.

Herman Miller corporate headquarters building

photo by: Charles E. Young Research Library, UCLA Library Special Collections

Herman Miller corporate headquarters building, Zeeland, Michigan, 1971-79. Perspectival section through building.

Sadly, this will be my final dispatch from Pacific Standard Time Presents. This summer, thanks to the collaborative efforts of so many Los Angeles institutions, we have learned more about the history of Los Angeles’ built environment at the Getty’s comprehensive exhibit Overdrive, explored Pasadena’s Modernist residential architecture, studied Downtown Los Angeles’ Modernist skyline, and marveled at the Modern architecture up and down iconic Wilshire Boulevard.

Like I mentioned at the beginning of the summer when we first began exploring the city’s Modern architecture, I remain baffled when people ask me, “What’s historic about Los Angeles? What is there to preserve?” With a legacy of Modernism this rich, answering that question will take hours.

Lauren Walser headshot

Lauren Walser served as the Los Angeles-based field editor of Preservation magazine. She enjoys writing and thinking about art, architecture, and public space, and hopes to one day restore her very own Arts and Crafts-style bungalow.

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